The lush island nation of Samoa and the densely packed urban neighborhood of Brownsville, Brooklyn may seem to have little in common. Yet they are both at the forefront of some of the most cutting-edge clean energy projects in their respective geographies.
In Brooklyn, Marcus Garvey Village is powered by a microgrid built in 2017 featuring solar, a fuel cell, and the first lithium-ion battery system installed under current regulatory requirements in New York City. Across the world, Samoa is going 100% renewable in just a few years.
The projects are both the handiwork of GridMarket, a New York-based startup that allows end-use customers and vendors to deploy best-fit solutions to achieve their energy goals.
In 2018, the Marcus Garvey Village project attracted the attention of Marubeni America, the U.S. arm of Japanese conglomerate Marubeni Corporation, whose global operations span a staggering range of geographies and industries. Marubeni America was drawn to the Marcus Garvey Village microgrid because it represented the kind of complex, multi-asset distributed energy resource solution it wanted to deploy across its own portfolio.
“To tackle this market, we needed a holistic solution, including solar, batteries, fuel cells, and energy efficiency,” said Masa Nagai, department manager for Marubeni America’s Renewable Energy Solutions group.
GridMarket’s platform balances public and proprietary data, machine-learning-driven analytics and project-automation tools to provide actionable DER and microgrid intelligence. “Our basic philosophy is that through data and predictive analytics, we can rapidly open up opportunities across every property in the world, reducing traditional barriers to deploying the right clean technologies and business models. Our lifeblood is partnership, and we are always looking for the best technologies, financiers, engineers, consultants and solution providers to help us serve our ever-growing marketplace of active projects,” said GridMarket CEO Nick Davis.
GridMarket combines AI-powered load curve predictions with automated tools for remote site evaluation, system design, financial modeling and vendor matching. The result is a true DER project acceleration platform, identifying and scoping opportunities, reducing soft costs, reducing risk and shortening the typical development cycle. To date, the platform has prequalified over 350 million buildings around the world for DER potential.
Global ambitions, with a local start
Marubeni has a 68-country portfolio, but the U.S. is a major near-term focus due to its massive market potential, established ecosystem of DER solution providers, and Marubeni America’s reach into thousands of properties through subsidiaries and customers nationwide.
For Marubeni America, it was critical to have a way to identify, evaluate and pursue as many projects as possible. Marubeni America made a strategic investment in GridMarket in 2019 and started deploying GridMarket’s technology across its portfolio, including identifying and developing microgrids for aftermarket auto parts dealers XL Parts in Texas and The Parts House in Florida, as well as one of the largest grain elevator operators in the U.S.
“Marubeni conducted rigorous blind testing and diligence to prove the platform and confirmed it was an effective tool for not just Japan and the United States, but globally,” said Davis.
Marubeni America also connected GridMarket with U.S. subsidiaries of other Japanese conglomerates, which must quickly reduce emissions following their government’s mandate to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. Across the Asia-Pacific region, Marubeni is also working with GridMarket to help its affiliates, including manufacturing facilities and data centers, reach their sustainability goals.
Building for scale and flexibility
GridMarket’s global and diverse customer base, from industrial manufacturers and cold storage warehouses, to entire island nations and regional utility grids, allows it to continue improving its AI and process automation capabilities, further enhancing their accuracy and effectiveness. As more developers and financiers adopt the platform, it becomes a virtuous cycle. It also allows partners to pivot faster, such as when GridMarket offered tools enabling remote site work during the COVID-19 pandemic to keep projects on schedule.
For example, in Samoa, the platform is being used by the government, the local utility and other critical partners to assess all viable options for distributed energy generation in a transparent, sophisticated tender process. As part of that process, which was ongoing during the pandemic, GridMarket coordinated with on-the-ground stakeholders to enable virtual site visits and infrastructure captures using devices such as drones, satellite technology and digital document-sharing.
Beyond the feedback loop that the scale of the platform provides, GridMarket is also interested in how its platform can reduce barriers to entry for companies and property owners lacking the in-house expertise or resources to evaluate their potential for DER solutions. A leading cold storage company is using GridMarket to pilot a multi-asset microgrid in California, with the potential to be replicated at facilities nationwide. GridMarket has also partnered with RETC, a leading independent test lab for PV module and battery testing, for a pilot energy storage system project.
For Marubeni America, the decision to partner with GridMarket reflects its hard-won understanding of the complexity and diversity of the commercial and industrial sector, which will require a broad ecosystem of developers, investors and technology providers to truly scale. GridMarket and Marubeni America’s shared and independent pipelines have currently opened up over 5 gigawatts of live project opportunities actively seeking clean technology and financial solutions through GridMarket’s platform.
“The market is too enormous for one company to cover,” said Nagai. “The GridMarket platform can connect and empower all those stakeholders who want to create a better world, and we are seeking the best solutions providers, utilities and financiers to help us do it faster.”